How does a school that believes in countering oppression invest its money?
That was the question that Glenn Farley asked himself when he started attending Starr King School in 2007. Four years later, he and SKSM board member Joan Cudhea have successfully moved the school’s endowment money out of mainstream mutual funds into more sustainable and responsible investments (SRIs) that are performing well financially and reflect the ethos of the school.
Farley was an investment adviser before coming to Starr King. He says he was impressed that the SKSM staff and board immediately listened and embraced his concern about investments. “It showed how forward thinking this institution is, how ready they were to invest in … line with our values,” he said. “I was deeply grateful. The decision represents the best of Starr King.”
Farley, who graduated Starr King with an M.Div. last year and recently joined Starr King’s Board of Trustees, worked closely with Cudhea, chair of SKSM’s Investment Committee. In 2009, the two led a search for a new endowment manager, and after in-depth interviews with four firms, recommended Boston Common Asset Management. Founded by Geeta Aiyer, Boston Common is a premiere sustainable and responsible investment firm, headquartered on State Street within walking distance of UUA headquarters in Boston.
Since the initial investment in November 2009, Farley says, the endowment’s return has been equal to or better than average in each type of fund. “We have 100 percent transparency on a daily basis, and our fees have decreased as well. Higher returns, lower risk, and lower fees – can’t get much better than that!”
In addition to investing in companies that support environmental responsibility, human rights, and nondiscrimination in hiring, the SKSM Boardmandated that 1 to 3 percent of the endowment go to community investments. Farley says that these “are usually very safe, below-market-rate investments for affordable housing and such.” SKSM has contracted with the Calvert Foundation to direct the community investment money to Northern California and beyond.
Farley, who will start this fall as intern minister atCentral Unitarian Church in Paramus, NJ, said that SKSM students and faculty are benefiting from the school’s commitment to mission-related investing. For one thing, Boston Common, the new asset manager, offers them an opportunity to participate in corporate-responsibility campaigns that include letter writing and petitioning for consumer and hiring fairness.
“We live in a society where money is power and too often power is concentrated in corporations,” Farley says. “Engaging in that system for justice can be a powerful learning for the Starr King faculty and student body.”